Open main menu

William Scott Vare (December 24, 1867 – August 7, 1934) was an American politician from Pennsylvania who served as a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives for Pennsylvania's 1st congressional district from 1912 to 1927. He served as a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate from the 1st Senatorial District from 1922 to 1923. He won election to the United States Senate for Pennsylvania in 1926 but was never seated and was eventually removed in 1929 due to allegations of corruption and voter fraud.

William Scott Vare
United States Senator-elect[a]
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1927 – December 6, 1929
Preceded byGeorge Pepper
Succeeded byJoe Grundy
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate
from the 1st district
In office
November 7, 1922 – November 30, 1923[1]
Preceded byEdwin Vare
Succeeded byFlora M. Vare
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 1st district
In office
May 24, 1912 – March 3, 1927
Preceded byHenry Bingham
Succeeded byJames Hazlett
Personal details
Born(1867-12-24)December 24, 1867
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedAugust 7, 1934(1934-08-07) (aged 66)
Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
a.^ Vare was not permitted to qualify for the seat to which he was elected in 1926, and the election results never received gubernatorial certification. He was never sworn-in, and his term was thus in dispute until he was formally unseated by the Senate.

He was a notorious political boss in the Philadelphia Republican machine of the early 20th century.[2] Vare and his two brothers, Edwin and George, were known as the "Dukes of South Philadelphia" and held political control over South Philadelphia ward leadership and patronage jobs for decades. The contracting business he owned along with his brothers was involved in the construction of well-known sites in Philadelphia such as Municipal Stadium, the Broad Street subway and the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Early lifeEdit

Vare was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Augustus and Abigail Vare. He was the youngest of three brothers, all of whom were contractors and politicians. George (1859–1908), Edwin (1862–1922) and William were known as the "Dukes of South Philadelphia" and controlled ward leadership and patronage jobs for decades.[2]

He grew up on a pig and produce farm in Philadelphia on the current location of Fourth Street and Snyder Avenue.[3]

John Wanamaker, the Department Store magnate took young Bill under his wing and paid for his tuition at Central High School in Philadelphia. Later, he worked as a storeboy at Wanamaker's.[4]

At age 15, Vare entered the mercantile business and became a general contractor in 1893.[5]


His political career began in 1884 when he observed the Mummers parade on New Year's Day and realized that such marches could be employed in political campaigns. The Vare brothers started a family business hauling ash and garbage in South Philadelphia.[6] In 1890 he started construction contracting with his two older brothers. Vare Brothers contracting worked on excavating, paving and municipal contracts for the city of Philadelphia that totaled $7 million between 1909 and 1912. Their projects included building trolley tracks, sewers, the Municipal Stadium, the Broad Street subway and excavating the site of the Philadelphia Art Museum.[7]

Vare was elected to Philadelphia City Council in 1898 and served until 1901. He served as Recorder of Deeds for Philadelphia from 1902 to 1912.[5] In 1911, he ran for mayor as a moderate Republican. The primary was won by George Earle, Jr., but it split the Republican organization in Philadelphia three different ways, and it was these splits that accounted for Independent Rudolph Blankenburg's election in 1911.

In 1912, Vare was elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate and at the same time was elected to the U.S. Congress for the Pennsylvania 1st congressional district seat left vacant by the death of Henry H. Bingham.[5]

In November 1922, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate in a special election to fill the first district seat left vacant by his brother Edwin's death.[8] Vare resigned the seat a year later. His sister-in-law Flora, won the ensuing special election, becoming the first woman to serve in the chamber.[9]

United States House of RepresentativesEdit

In 1912, Vare was elected to the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives.[2] While in the House, his voting record took a much more pronounced turn to the left. He supported the abolition of child labor, the federal income tax, the rights of unions to bargain collectively, and voting rights for women and the ending of segregation on passenger rail cars. In 1921 Vare's rival, Senator Boies Penrose, died. The following year his older brother Ed also died. This left Bill Vare as the undisputed political leader of Philadelphia, with broad influence over the burgeoning industrial and economic region of the middle Atlantic seaboard.

Vare's voting record in the United States House of Representatives was classically Pennsylvania Republican, or more liberal on social issues and then more conservative on issues of pure business. Vare repeatedly pursued the repeal of Prohibition because of the cruel police state it imposed, and was actually able to show, statistically, that alcohol-related crimes increased threefold in Philadelphia during the first years of Prohibition. It was a testament to his moral character that he argued this way, as it has been inferred that the Philadelphia Republican Party machine relied on alcohol-related revenues to fund its core activities, and Vare thus stood to lose much of his financial backing by pursuing Prohibition's repeal.[citation needed]

The Republican organization in Philadelphia received many offers to do business from the likes of Waxey Gordon and "Lucky" Luciano. But this was no ordinary arrangement, as Vare forced both Gordon and Luciano to agree that Vare would hold a veto power over any racket operating in Philadelphia. In a further bid to gird the fiscal foundation of the Party, Vare decided to extract "loyalty oaths" from the entire Philadelphia Republican organization.[citation needed] Vare was also able to exert tremendous influence over Philadelphia's legal business. This was a strong form of politics, because Vare had lots of influence with the unions.

Vare used his political power to relocate the Sesquicentennial Exposition from Center City, Philadelphia to South Philadelphia and provide his constituents with millions of dollars worth of jobs and infrastructure investment.[10]

Senate scandal and end of careerEdit

In 1926 Vare announced his candidacy for the United States Senate.[5] Both the primaries and general election were mired in scandal.[11] After Vare apparently won the election against William B. Wilson, Governor Gifford Pinchot, who had been beaten by Vare in the primary, refused to certify the election. In January 1927, Pinchot testified before the Senate, producing several thousand illegal paper ballots. Wilson alleged that voter fraud in the election included padded registration lists, phantom voters and voter intimidation.[12] In August 1928, Ware was partially paralyzed by a stroke brought on by the stress of the Senate investigation.[10]

In December 1929, the Senate voted fifty-eight to twenty-two to deny the senate seat to Vare. While agreeing that he had won the seat, the reason given for denying him the seat was that he had spent excessively to win the nomination.[13] Pennsylvania Governor John S. Fisher appointed Joseph Grundy to the senate seat.[2] However, Vare took it to mean that he was being denied the seat because of Pinchot's charges. As a result, in the 1930 gubernatorial primary, Vare supported Democratic nominee John Hemphill, who lost to Pinchot. At this point a palace coup emerged at the Republican City Committee, where he was ousted and replaced by Secretary of Labor James Davis.

Vare was unable to handle the rigors of campaigning due to his declining health but was still wielded political power and supported the candidacy of Francis Shunk Brown for Governor and James J. Davis for U.S. Senate.[14]

Four years later, Vare attempted a comeback as a Democrat. However, the symptoms of the 1928 stroke had become worse in the ensuing six years, and he died on the sixth anniversary of the stroke. He is interred in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.[15]


Personal lifeEdit

Vare was married to Ida Morris.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cox, Harold (2004). "Pennsylvania Senate - 1923-1924" (PDF). Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University.
  2. ^ a b c d "Closed for Business". Retrieved 2 January 2019.
  3. ^ Dubin, Murray (1996). South Philadelphia: Mummers, Memories and the Melrose Diner. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. p. 85. ISBN 1-56639-429-5. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  4. ^ Beers 1980, p. 62.
  5. ^ a b c d e "William Scott Vare". Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  6. ^ Amsterdam, Daniel (2016). Roaring Metropolis: Businessmen's Campaign for a Civic Welfare State. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 29. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  7. ^ Beers 1980, pp. 62-63.
  8. ^ Cox, Harold (2004). "Pennsylvania Senate - 1921-1922" (PDF). Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University.
  9. ^ Cox, Harold (2004). "Pennsylvania Senate - 1925-1926" (PDF). Wilkes University Election Statistics Project. Wilkes University.
  10. ^ a b Keels, Thomas H. "Contractor Bosses (1880s to 1930s)". Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  11. ^ Beers 1980, p. 65.
  12. ^ "U.S. Senate: The Election Case of William B. Wilson vs. William S. Vare of Pennsylvania (1929)". Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  13. ^ Weigley, Russell Frank (1982). Philadelphia: A 300 Year History. New York - London: WW Norton & Company. p. 584. ISBN 0-393-01610-2. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  14. ^ McLarnon 2003, p. 101.
  15. ^ "William Scott Vare". Retrieved 1 January 2019.


External linksEdit